We've found some great toys and ideas to help your family have fun outside all summer long. Many of our picks come from our outdoor-play gurus: Sarah Furstenberg, mother and owner of Clover Toys, and Jude LaRene, father and owner of Izilla Toys, both in Seattle.
Toddlers to kindergarten
For kids on the move
Kettler Trikes ($75 and up). These are super-stable, efficient and come with push bars to give little ones a helping hand. LaRene is also a fan of Berlin Flyer wagons. "These are all wood and built in the USA," he says. "They have a special'no tip' steering system that really works."
RC2 makes a great little metal wheelbarrow ($35) for ages 3 and older. "Add a little shovel, some dirt and a 3-year old and you get fun," says LaRene. Its wooden handles are sturdy, and the rubber wheel is even sturdier.
Fling and catch
Beamos ($25) and Ultra Sky-0s ($15) are easy to throw and catch, and soft as well, for those times when you get hit by them.
The Super High Bounce Pinky ($1). "The best ball ever. Honest. No childhood is complete without The Super High Bounce Pinky," raves LaRene about this classic ball.
Furstenberg wants kids to go hunting -- for bugs. "Bug houses are great for taking out to the woods or backyard and finding some interesting specimens to observe and set free later," she says. Backyard Explorations makes a large wood-and-screen Critter Cabin ($16) and a smaller Bug Bungalow ($5). For this entomology journey you will also need a magnifying glass to see things up close ($13), and a compass ($9). From HABA.
Kids love to dress up and play pretend games outdoors. Entire fairy outfits are available at Hush Baby in Redmond Town Center. Nostalgic Cloaks, locally owned by moms Shanyn Emerson and Diana Callaway, makes incredible, magical cloaks from toddler size ($25) to extra large ($55). To order, call 425-736-6227 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A great boredom buster -- Giant bubble wands!
Bothell-based Majic Bubble Wand sells giant bubble wands in a set with a pan ($20). Kids will play with these for hours outside. 425-486-4884.
Elementary to middle school
For space cadets
LaRene recommends the Marky Sparky Blast Pad ($21). "This is an air-powered rocket launcher that everyone will love. The rockets absolutely soar." Furstenberg likes the Ultimate Star Finder ($20), "a great tool for studying the stars."
Furstenberg recommends Pacific PlayTents for a great tent that's easy to put up and take down ($33). The quality of the tent is good enough that it can be taken outside in the rain for real campouts, but it's also small and easily stowed.
And for camping in the backyard, the Nite Ize Flash-Flights light-up flying disks ($12) are great, too. A "junior" size is softer and easier for little hands to catch.
Kids can stuff their gear into Glyph Guy backpacks ($35). "These are real daypacks designed for little hikers. All the features an adult would want in a pack, but fit to a child," LaRene says.
For budding naturalists, Flights of Fancy makes a portable sundial kit ($9); a lovely birdwatching kit with binoculars, a specimen guide and a field journal ($22); and a tree guide kit ($22) with three different types of tree seeds to plant, a field guide, and a tangent tool to measure the heights of trees from a distance.
Get hopping and tossing!
LaRene's must-have toy to get your kid moving is the MotoStick ($50-$180). He says, "This is the best pogo stick I've seen. It's super-strong, repairable and insanely fun." And he loves the Discraft UltraStar Flying disc ($10). "This is the one toy I always have near me."
Great books for outdoor activities
Furstenberg highly recommends The Field and Forest Handy Book by D.C. Beard ($14.95). "Originally published in 1906, this is an incredible book with directions for almost every type of outdoor project you can think of," Furstenberg says. Bainbridge Island mom and author Nancy Blakey also has written a wonderful series of books containing great projects that can be done outdoors, including her Go Outside! An Activity Book for Outdoor Adventures ($14.95).
Kathleen F. Miller is a Sammamish-based freelance writer and mother of two.
Originally published in the March, 2007 print edition of ParentMap.